The Berndt Museum of Anthropology holds a range of collections of national significance. This includes more than 11,500 items, 35,000 photographs, film and sound and multiple archives, and is considered to be one of the most significant collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultural material globally. The collections include Asian and Melanesian material, as well as representations from across the world that broaden its international appeal.
The level of documentation, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs and cultural material in our collections and our capacity for direct engagement, historical exchange and ongoing commitment to Aboriginal people mean the Berndt Museum has a point of difference to both the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Western Australian Museum.
We recognise that the Museum has a long development history stretching from the initial campaign in 1989. Since then, several attempts have been made and the more recent campaign was looking to create an Australian Aboriginal Cultures Museum forging beyond Ronald and Catherine Berndt’s collections to a new era, preceding the current collections in scope.
The challenge remains and today the BMA is still seeking a standalone museum – one that includes a dynamic and versatile research centre, exhibition spaces, study centre, registration and conservation workshops to care for works and to teach, a photographic unit, archives, reference library and many of the points of focus that relate back to the Museum’s collections.
The history of Ronald and Catherine Berndt and the contribution they have made to UWA cannot go unnoticed with the creation of such an incredible collection, their reach across the globe to support and engage in discussions on anthropology, their early work looking at the positive aspects of Aboriginal Australia and their influence on students throughout their lifetime and including today. This is a collection of national significance forged by the Berndts’ work and even today the new acquisitions are influenced by the legacy they left to UWA.
The level of documentation, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs and cultural material in our collections and our capacity for direct engagement, historical exchange and ongoing commitment to Aboriginal people mean the BMA is an amazing resource for research and immersive teaching.
Artworks and objects
The Museum’s collection of objects and artworks demonstrate the diversity of Aboriginal artistic expression and extraordinary creativity, embodied with vital cultural heritage and knowledge.
It is of utmost importance to staff that individual works are appropriately contextualised, handled, cared for and showcased in internal and external exhibitions. Conservation and preservation is paramount and although there are always challenges in temporary locations, we strive to respectfully preserve all items in our care to ensure their future is set.
Objects and Artworks
The quality of the collections of objects and artworks in the BMA is a source of great interest locally, nationally and internationally. The relationship between the objects and archives and the potential to learn more about Aboriginal Australia is staggering. We are working across Australia to ensure these items remain strong in community and culture for generations to come.
The Museum Archive contains a number of discrete collections documenting Australian Aboriginal knowledge, law and culture, socio-economic and political life, histories and interactions.
The significance of the archive lies in the vast wealth of information, experiences and insights that it incorporates. This archive not only has the potential to substantiate and enhance our understanding of other collection material within the Museum, it is a reservoir of immeasurable, multifaceted knowledge that is valuable to researchers, students, museums and universities elsewhere and, most importantly, Aboriginal communities. The Ronald M and Catherine H Berndt Field Notebooks and Personal Archive are currently subject to a 30-year embargo that will lift in 2024.
The Audiovisual Collection is currently a work in progress with the material not yet formally accessioned, registered or recorded on the database.
As another medium and platform that provides an insight into cultural knowledge and practice, it is imperative to BMA staff that more attention is given to this collection. In highlighting the value of this collection, we seek to ensure such significant material is not lost and instead is provided in a format that is accessible to researchers and community members. We are working to digitise material as well as ensuring conservation and preservation needs are maintained to best practice.
Our Photographic Material Collection consists of negatives in various formats and digital images that are diverse in provenance and subject matter.
Although a significant number of researchers and academics make use of the photographic material, this collection is of particular importance to Aboriginal community members as a visual point of reference in making connections to family, place and culture. For these reasons, our approach to the BPMC is one that engages with Aboriginal and research communities holistically.
The Berndt Museum of Anthropology is proud to announce the transfer of Returning Photos, the project funded by the Australian Research Council under its Discovery scheme (DP110100278). This was done in partnership with numerous European museums: the University of Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum, the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, and the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (National Museum of World Cultures) in Leiden.
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